Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I opened Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas in late December and almost immediately put it back down. I think my problem was that I began with the Introduction and the Prologue.

After putting the book down, then starting and finishing two other books, I picked it up again at a more favorable time and with high temps reaching only -15℉. I was settled into my house for a week and this time I began with the first chapter. When the author allows Bonhoeffer to do the speaking and begins to tell the story of an amazing life, the writing comes alive.

He grew up in a family that believed the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical heritage and intellectual tradition. pg. 5 without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God. pg. 14

Karl Bonhoefffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say. He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride. pg. 15

Dietrich said, "even if you were to knock my head off, God would still exist." pg. 38*

As long as we let the word be our only armor we can look confidently into the future. pg. 57

He could appreciate the value in something, even if he ultimately rejected that something--and could see the errors and flaws in something, even if he ultimately accepted that something. pg. 61

...he often said that if one couldn't communicate the most profound ideas about God and the Bible to children, something was amiss. pg. 64

Then he came to his main point: the essence of Christianity is not about religion at all, but about the person of Christ. pg. 83

Philosophy was man's search for truth apart from God. But theology begins and ends with faith in Christ, who reveals himself to man; apart from such revelation, there could be no such things as truth. pg. 89

Anyone who has seen the weekly program of one of the large New York churches, with their daily, indeed almost hourly events, teas, lectures, concerts, charity events, opportunities for sports, games, bowling, dancing for every age group, anyone who has heard how they try to persuade a new resident that you'll get into society quite differently by doing so, anyone who has become acquainted with the embarrassing nervousness with which the pastor lobbies for membership--that person can well assess the character of such a church. All these things, of course,take place with varying degrees of tactfulness, taste, and seriousness; some churches are basically "charitable" churches; others have primarily a social identity. One cannot avoid the impression, however, that in both cases they have forgotten what the real point is. pg. 107

It became clear to me that the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the Church. pg. 123

On cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. Pg. 136

"If you board the wrong train," he said, "it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction." pg. 187

He was thinking about the deep call of Christ, which was not about winning, but about submission to God, wherever that might lead. pg. 196

He felt that what was especially missing from the life of Christians in Germany was the day-to-day reality of dying to self, of following Christ with every ounce of one's being in every moment, in every part of one's life....Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and the culture, but one's faith must be shining and bright and pure and robust. pg 248

...between the Scylla of orthodoxy and the Charybdis of confessionlessness. pg. 286

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. pg. 363

There is so much more to this book than I can ever express in words. The powerful story of a man who LIVED in CHRIST. In Bonhoeffer's life, there could not be one without the other. LIFE and CHRIST. He was not (as my old pastor used to say), "to worldly for heavenly good or to heavenly for worldly good." He understood that, "it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith," and "being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin that about courageously and actively doing God's will."

In the end, he is a testimony to the truth that "the only fight which is lost is that which we give up."

This is not an easy book. It took a week of solid and thoughtful reading. While you don't need a Ph.D. to complete it, it does take some education. You don't have to know what Scylla and Charybdis are, but it would sure help.

By the way, I still haven't read the Intro and Prologue.

*My husband said almost the same thing during a discussion about the influence of faith in Scouting just the other day, "Just because you don't believe, it doesn't mean God doesn't exist."


Girl Detective said...

Marilynne Robinson has a good essay on Bonheoffer in her book Death of Adam.

Janet said...

Interesting review. I have this book on my TBR list but have not gotten to it yet. When I get to it, I'll leave the intro for last!

Susan (Reading World) said...

I bought this book awhile back because I wanted to learn more about Bonhoeffer, but the book has been sitting on my shelf. It's intimidating. Thanks for this review. It reminded me I really do intend to read the book!

Melinda said...

I've heard good things about this book. It's my list of books I want to read but I don't have a copy yet.

Carol in Oregon said...

I am in the midst of listening to Bonhoeffer. I so appreciate your quotes, because I don't have the words in front of my face. The ones you chose resonate with me. And I can see with clarity where I was when I listened to the words.

Sometimes I repeat a section two or three times to absorb all that is in it.

Thank you for the great review. I've already had Marilynne Robinson's book of essays on my TBR list, but now I really want to read her essay on Bonhoeffer.

By the way, the narrator pronounced the name in a way I've never before heard it: Bon-HOOFer.